Tag Archives: community

Being useful is more important than chasing vanity metrics

I recently had a call from a vendor who brusquely said she thought our Facebook posts could do better and that their tool could help (a dubious argument). That week happened to be, in retrospect, one of our lowest for engagement rates, in part because Facebook was seemingly squeezing everybody’s reach at the time and because I was trying new content features, but it also brought to focus something I’ve been thinking for a while:

We spend a lot of time looking at social media the wrong way.

Graph that shows a rising and falling Facebook reachSocial media isn’t — or shouldn’t be — a popularity contest. If you’re only concerned with vanity metrics (likes, reach, etc.), you’re not really concerned with your audience.

Don’t get me wrong: I like seeing one of our posts getting hundreds of likes and shares and a big reach, but there’s something I like way better:

Seeing that one of our posts has helped somebody or had a positive effect. Maybe it makes an alum smile and remember their days. Maybe a parent comments on how thrilled they are their child goes here. Maybe it convinces somebody to come to an event or donate or maybe even choose to enroll at our college.

And in at least one case, a very helpful post made people mad and convinced them not to come, but ultimately was the right thing, engagement rates be damned.

Without getting too specific, we have a popular annual student-organized event that I happily promote when I heard about it because it’s one of the most cherished offerings to the community. But then, on the afternoon before the event (!), they emailed they didn’t have their resources aligned and would have to cancel it.

I knew what I had to do wouldn’t make us popular or that beloved in the short term, but it was the right thing: I had to post ASAP that this event was canceled.

People were mad. They chewed us out. They were rightfully upset that an event their children looked forward to wasn’t going to happen and they’d have to find some alternative. I checked around and found a couple of similar events they might enjoy.

The post did get shared quite a bit to make sure families didn’t show up to a canceled thing, which would have led to temper tantrums and the like, and the comments with which it was shared were not kind. Understood. I did a follow-up post the next morning, realizing it could bring more anger, although by then people saw it as more helpful.

If somebody only cared about sentiment tracking, would they have posted it?

If somebody didn’t think it would get a bunch of likes, would they have posted it?

I’d like to think the answer to these questions is “yes” for most people in the field, but if all you chase are likes and positive sentiment, you’ll miss the bigger purpose of social media, and that is being of value to your community.

If somebody doesn’t want to post something helpful or of interest to a key (albeit niche) audience because it might not get good engagement rates and could potentially lower EdgeRank, then they are managing numbers, not a true community.

Because posting something that genuinely helps one person, or moves one person to action that will have positive results, is more valuable than 100 likes any day.

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#heweb16 shows it’s a caring community

Not only is HighEdWeb (#heweb16) probably the greatest conference for higher ed web professionals in the world but we were reminded yet again today that it’s a very caring community.

As Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code — which provides computer science and technological learning opportunities to girls of color ages 7 to 17 — gave a moving keynote on the importance of supporting technological opportunities to all, Chris D’Orso of Stony Brook cared enough to go to the Black Girls Code website and make a donation of $16 (in honor of #heweb16) to support the cause.

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And that in itself is lovely, but what happened next showed how truly beautiful the people at #heweb16 are.

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And it continued …

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(I also gave the $16, but was only one of many.)

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Until the giving spirit was everywhere in the room:

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I lost track of how many people donated, and I’m not sure how much total money we raised, but I’m completely sure of this: #heweb16 is an awesome community and I am so blessed to be a part of it.

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Goodbye Garrison Keillor: A lesson in the power of with.

Garrison Keillor in his natural habitat (photo from prairiehome.org).

Garrison Keillor in his natural habitat (photo from prairiehome.org).

“It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown …”

Garrison Keillor said those words one last time on Saturday night before signing off of “A Prairie Home Companion,” a show he has helmed in some form or another since more than 40 years ago. The show didn’t just unexpectedly gather multimillions of fans from coast to coast but helped reinvigorate a whole medium. In the words of colleague Scott Simon on NPR, “all of us who share this sliver on the radio spectrum know we wouldn’t be in business if Garrison Keillor hadn’t made a new thing called public radio truly sing.”

So Keillor’s last show bears its share of symbolism as it stood amidst a shifting landscape. Just as Keillor passes the torch to talented young musician/composer Chris Thile, so too has the transition from an odd little local variety show to a worldwide phenomenon taken us from a cold war and national malaise and a radio medium looking to stay vital to the age of the Internet and a world where the audio medium is as hot as ever through podcasting.

Keillor himself took the occasion of the final broadcast, as he always has, to put over a younger generation of talent. The performance featured duets with five talented women: Sara Watkins (a former guest host and bandmate of Thile in Nickel Creek), Sarah Jarosz, Aiofe O’Donovan, Heather Masse and Christine DiGiallonardo. Watkins got to sing “One Last Time,” a song on her just-released album, and joined Jarosz and O’Donovan in work they do as a trio called I’m With Her.

And “with” is probably the best preposition to explain Keillor’s appeal: He performs with his guests, house musicians and comic players, and has as much fun as anybody. He shares greetings from the studio audience with the world. He brings us with him into the fictional small town of Lake Woebegon, until we can smell the coffee in the Chatterbox Cafe and see the aisles of Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery. And he laughs with his characters and the world, not at them.

Keillor and this show have a special relationship with our family, as we would gather to listen and laugh and love the music. It almost seems outmoded now, as today parents and kids all have their own smartphones and tablets and TVs and their own fragmented entertainment, yet there we were, our mom and various combinations of three sons, brought together by this tall, awkward stranger and his friends via the radio airwaves.

We also grew up in a small town that could have been, for all intents and purposes, Lake Woebegon. Weedsport, N.Y., a town of less than 2,000, is bigger than Keillor’s imaginary Minnesota hometown, but it had everything else — a rural setting, an ongoing struggle for identity and families who knew one another for generations. His stories felt like they could have happened on our streets .. or on the streets of many a small town. Popular culture highlighting a small town in a humbly celebratory light was rare then (and still is), so us small-town folks take a certain pride; Keillor is, in a way, one of our own who made good.

Many of these blog things talk about what we can learn from somebody’s success, and true to form, here are three things Keillor teaches us:

1. The power of storytelling. Those of us who work in communications speak of (and sometimes present on) the power of storytelling, and Keillor was a master of craft, character and consistency. Creating Lake Wobegon from scratch is an amazing accomplishment — so just think of the storytelling we can do with real people! Radio might be the best pure modern manifestation for storytelling. We hear words and inflections and fill in the blanks with the theater of our minds. No different than tales told over fires to friends about legends of old, or to our tucked-in children with powerful, positive lessons. Podcasting is simply radio on demand, and “Serial” becoming one of the biggest recent phenomena in any medium shows the audio storytelling format remains as potent as ever.

2. Generosity. His cohorts are not as famous as Keillor, but that’s not because he tries to upstage them. Quite the opposite. In his final show, Keillor made sure to give particular spotlight to longtime companions like versatile voice actor Tim Russell and sound-effects maestro Fred Newman. He gave pianist and musical director Richard Dworsky his own shine, and has always been the #1 fan of his house band in whatever combination they are (Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band remains my favorite). He let the voices of the aforementioned five talented women take up nearly as much time in his farewell show as his own familiar baritone.

3. Community. Long before Facebook or email or the Internet, Keillor created a community all his own. And I’m not even talking about Lake Wobegon — he created a very real community with fans everywhere who could fall into warm discussion of the show, their favorite sketches, the most memorable songs. Moreover, his stories were about universal themes — love and loss, striving for acceptance, family relations and wanting to do better. The community he created formed a rising tide that helped lift then-fledgling public radio into the national cultural consciousness, and NPR remains a community — virtual and otherwise — that connects people with information, with ideas and with a world beyond themselves. Not bad for a shy English major.

And so we say goodbye to Keillor and to his familiar hometown of Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average. The whole experience has been far, far above average. We are all better from the time with this imaginary place and with all of Keillor’s encouraging words.

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Leadership, shoveling snow and great communities

If somebody said that leaders getting out and shoveling snow was a hallmark of a great community, you’d say that’s crazy, right?

Think again.

A delightful story came through Twitter the other day about Michael Benson, the president of Eastern Kentucky University, showing up to shovel a student’s driveway in response to a tweet. It’s not a new service EKU offers, just a good-natured good deed from Benson, who regularly interacts with students via Twitter and responds to challenges for things like ping-pong games and dodgeball. But this little act of kindness was so on target that it inspired others to take up shovels to help their neighbors and it rightfully earned plenty of media attention.

ekuAfter I shared it, friends at other colleges helped put it into the context of a larger narrative and trend. A friend at Cornell noted that Berea, Kentucky, is considered one of the 20 coolest towns in U.S. Then another colleague from Cornell, Mark Anbinder, recalled how Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick once went around the city with a shovel and some friends to help those who needed it. Ithaca also happens to be considered the Best College Town in America by Business Insider, among many other awards for being an awesome community that occupy a long list on VisitIthaca.com.

Coincidence? Maybe less than it seems.

The best communities and campuses are powered by a spirit where everybody is involved. When the person on top rolls up their sleeves — or tucks them into a coat to take up a shovel — how powerful a message is that? If the college president or the mayor take up shovels and take time to look out for the community, what possible reason could you have for not helping others when you have the opportunity?

I’m not saying your president or mayor needs to go out and shovel — it’s not a very enjoyable opportunity unless you it’s something you like doing — but the act is more metaphorical. It is not the specific actions but the attitudes that are significant.

I still remember so many years later when I was unemployed and unhappy and fresh out of college, visiting my alma mater of Brockport. A dean had a brief exchange with me that suddenly made me feel human again, lifted my spirits and bolstered my beyond-sagging confidence. It wasn’t anything in particular she did or said, nor anything she would ever remember, but just a brief moment where her message to me was simply: You matter.

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We all matter. And just the reminder of this means a lot. Our star student blogger Alyssa Levenberg, of “Alyssa Explains It All” fame, has always wanted to meet our college president, Deborah F. Stanley. After a hockey game, seeing President Stanley there but not feeling like she could just walk up and say “hi,” Alyssa tweeted that she’d like to meet the president. A meeting was arranged, and President Stanley told Alyssa she was a fan of her videos and they talked and Alyssa came out more than impressed. “She really shows why @sunyoswego is awesome,” Alyssa tweeted after the meeting.

But you know what, let’s take this one step further. You always have the ability to make yours a better community. You always have the ability to show others that they matter. Say a kind word. Go do something good. Make somebody happy.

When it comes from the top, the message is strong. But it doesn’t mean that anybody, everybody can’t step up and become a leader of making their community, their world a better place.

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stop begging, start creating (cont.): a very short story

I’ve talked before about how social media accounts should stop begging for users and instead find and post quality content. Saw a very stark example of that with our campus this weekend. At about the same time on Saturday, the following two posts went out, the first from an affiliate site, the other from our main site.

The “please, please like us to reach an arbitrary figure” post goes against the very currency of social media — creating content people want to see, interact with and share. It makes everything about the account itself, and not about the user (and it should be about the user). As you can see, this post scared up 5 likes, no comments, no shares and — surprise! — as of Monday morning, the account still needed 7 likes to reach 2,000. It’s unfortunate because this account is run by smart, creative and very likable people capable of producing outstanding content.

Contrast that with the above image of the mind-bending 3-D chalk art from Art for After Hours, part of our Family and Friends Weekend. By Monday morning, it had 192 likes, 7 comments, 7 shares. While those are a good number of likes, the shares are what I consider the highest level of user engagement — they like it enough to take some kind of ownership and share it with friends. While this was far from our most-shared image, it had more shares than the begging post had likes. Plus this scene was available for any member of the campus community to capture and share.

As my friend Georgy Cohen of Meet Content has pointed out, the most-shared stories are ones to which the initial reaction of users is “wow!” or “whoa!” That was my actual reaction upon seeing the chalk art, and others seeing it in a photo (which honestly didn’t do it justice) felt the same way. No one says “wow!” or “whoa!” over an account begging for more users. Sadly in part because it’s so commonplace.

Consider this cocktail party example: You walk into the party and one person is asking people to like him, while the other is telling interesting stories. Where would you gravitate? Exactly.

I can’t say it enough: If you run a social media account, stop begging and start creating. Look around you for interesting content. It’s quite possibly everywhere. Then share it. It really is that simple.

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24 hours in photos at suny oswego: mission accomplished, lessons learned.

Watching a Zamboni clear the ice at 3:12 a.m. Visiting our student ambulance corps at 2:23 a.m. Seeing students working on papers and projects in our library at 2:47 a.m. Smelling donuts frying at 4:42 a.m. Listening in the studio as WRVO starts its local news coverage at 5:30 a.m.

These are among the many things happening while most of the campus and community are fast asleep. And also among the many highlights of our successful 24 Hours in Photos project looking to capture the many facets and faces of SUNY Oswego from 12:01 a.m. to midnight on Friday, Dec. 2  — a fairly typical day on campus.

In addition to the wee hours happenings, much of the day captures academics, the arts, athletics and more — classrooms, study areas, student organizations, a student art opening, musical performance, formal event, two basketball games, a women’s hockey contest and much much more. Moments large and small. Public and private. Silly and sublime.

Friends at other colleges have shown an interest in doing similar projects, so I’m happy to pass along lessons learned:

Use a team. While I did a lot of shooting for those 24 hours, I had a half-dozen dedicated students helping collect images as well as our office photographer. I opened the contributions to the campus community, and students, faculty and staff submitted by emailing sunyoswego@posterous.com, tweeting with a #24hoursinphotos hashtag or directly submitting to me via email or Dropbox. The combination of team and crowdsourced contributors made for a marvelous variety and a nice level of community ownership. But the team also included entities like University Police, who let me ride along to capture many images, and Auxiliary Services, which allowed me to visit the on-campus bakery and an early-opening dining hall.

Plan extensively. I created and shared a Google document with other participants containing photo ideas we all contributed. I asked students to cover particular beats, areas and events as their schedule allowed. I laid out my own schedule of overnight shots, knowing that 12:01 to 7 a.m. could be a big challenge. And I directly solicited ideas and submissions from anyone I could think of, especially events staffers and student organizations.

But expect the unexpected. Outdoor shots were muted by an unusually rainy December day; I’m no fan of snow, but it would have been more picturesque. The foul weather meant I couldn’t capture a glorious lakeside sunset (one of our trademarks). Some student photographers had complications arise, but we found ways to adjust. And some of the best photos were utter serendipity, as one may expect.

Goals first, then tools. You’ve heard this from me before? Once we had the basic concept, I sought tools that could best execute. Dipity threw its share of challenges in along the way — such as occasional visitors finding a message saying they did not have permission to view the timeline — but I value its robust experience, so we finally upgraded to the $4.95/month package because the free version only allowed 150 photos and limited access options. Posterous worked marvelously in taking moderated photo submissions with easy download. And Dropbox once again proved an outstanding way to move large amounts of big files.

It did involve plenty of work for several people, but getting a half-hour of sleep between Wednesday and Friday was a worthy sacrifice for meeting the unsung heroes protecting campus, preparing food or operating necessary equipment while I’m usually dozing in a warm bed. If you’re interested in doing a similar project, feel free to ask questions here or drop me a line. It was an unforgettable and undeniably valuable experience demonstrating what wonderful people, places and events comprise our campus community.

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24 hours in photos at suny oswego: let’s see what develops.

We all know that college campuses are exciting places. But have you ever stopped to think about how much happens there in a 24-hour span?

That’s what we hope to find out during our SUNY Oswego: 24 Hours in Photos project from 12:01 a.m. to midnight on Friday, Dec. 2. The odd inspiration comes from Frank Turner’s video for “The Road” where he performs 24 shows in 24 hours; it made me think about all the activity that takes place here that many people don’t even realize. Because Fridays have classes and other events — Dec. 2 has a student art opening, choral concert, women’s hockey game, two basketball games and a formal, among other things — this provides a broad swath of campus experience. I don’t just want the events everyone sees, but also what happens behind the scenes.

In addition to those of us (me) working 24 hours plus other staff and students, we’re trying to make it interactive and invite user-generated photos by allowing people to email submissions (with name, place and time of photo) to sunyoswego@posterous.com. It’s a moderated account, but any decent submissions can appear on that site for starters. Folks can also tweet images with a #24hoursinphotos tag. From there, I’d love to turn the submissions into a Dipity timeline (like we used for our sesquicentennial history) and maybe some other slideshows and/or a video showing top picks.

But this project isn’t about a gimmick; as always, goals come before tools. One goal is to produce something of interest to audiences ranging from prospective students, wondering what they can do on campus, to alumni who are always interested in seeing what’s happening at their alma mater. Moreover, it can raise awareness for current members of the campus community as to how much occurs here, the people, the places, the happenings large and small.

Obviously, I’ll keep readers posted on the results. May even keep a running blog throughout that day. Whatever happens, I can’t wait to see what develops.

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